I love putting a little Zen into my day-to-day leadership, because I’ve found it to be very, very effective. More specifically, I’m a big believer in leadership mantras.
Mantras are defined as a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that are considered capable of “creating transformation” (Wikipedia). They are useful guideposts to action, because as they are repeated, over and over again (and you need to do it at least 15 times- that’s Terry’s Rule), the underlying concepts can take root, setting the stage for real change.
Of course, you have to be able to effectively communicate (and understand yourself) the concepts behind these mantras from the get-go, but once you do, these little phrases do their job almost magically. Before too long, you don’t even have to say them – your team repeats them back to you, just at the moment the principle is at work.
I realize this may sound a little preposterous to think that just by throwing around a bunch of cliches a bunch of times that someone could be a better leader. To that I’ll respond with this mantra: “don’t knock it until you try it”.
It’s all in the delivery, and the conviction you bring to it. Just keep this in mind: mantras don’t become trite until you make them so by your own actions.
With that, I present to you my 10 favorite tried and true mantras that anyone can print out, put in their pocket, and use when needed. Taken as a whole, they pull together virtually all the key elements of great leadership.
- “It is what it is” – This one is handy for those who refuse to accept reality, or take responsibility, or don’t want to let go of something.
- “A fish stinks from the head down” – This is a frank reminder to all leaders that when problems happen, start by looking in the mirror.
- “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – Some things are better left untouched; there’s always something else that really is broken.
- “Teach instead of tell” – Leaders are at their best when they are helping someone else learn, rather than just barking out orders.
- “Be an enabler not a disabler” – This one takes a while to sink in, because we tend to be in denial that we could actually be getting in the way.
- “Don’t do second things first” – My (very) short but effective course in prioritization.
- “Facts are stubborn things” – They are like wake-up calls for the brain; it’s very hard to argue you’re great when the facts say otherwise (thank you John Adams)
- “Bad news can be good news” – If leaders aren’t getting bad news from their teammates, they just aren’t being good leaders. Period.
- “Be ever the statesman” – A constant reminder that we should always act in a respectful, honest, open, and dignified manner as we practice our craft.
- “No square pegs in round holes” – This is a warning on the hiring side: it’s absolutely critical to find the right match of job, skills and personality. Mistakes here can really hurt you.